Somedays it is not easy being Fletch.
The former investigative journalist “of some repute” has just returned to America to ostensibly start researching a new book on a painter, and while the Boston townhouse his Italian girlfriend procured seems to be fairly luxurious, it also comes with a murdered young woman in the living room. Soon Fletch is trying to convince the police that he didn’t murder the woman in question, despite some pretty strong evidence that suggests he could have. And as Fletch starts his own queries into why someone would try and frame him for murder, he finds that this may be tied in to real reason he came back to America following a long stay in Europe – investigating the theft of a number of priceless paintings, stolen from an Italian count who happens to be his future father-in-law.
When dealing with the first new movie featuring author Gregory Mcdonald’s wisecracking investigative reporter Irwin Maurice “Fletch” Fletcher in 33 years, we need to talk about the elephant in the room. (Not Babar. I don’t have any elephant books.) Or rather the elephant not in the room, Chevy Chase. Chase famously was the first to play McDonald’s irreverent investigative reporter in the 1985 adaptation of the first installment in the comedic mystery novel series. Chase’s predilection for off-the-cuff, virtually under-the-radar wisecracks very much suited the character to a certain degree. But Chase’s own on-screen persona, penchant for physical comedy and pratfalls, as well as the use of a number of silly disguises throughout the film, pretty much overwhelm the role, drowning out a more literary iteration of the character. And that is an unfair yardstick to measure Hamm and this film against.
Hamm’s take on the character is a little more breezy, a little more sedate. There is an air of cluelessness about him at sometimes, while at other times he seems to know more than he is letting on. Are either of these attitudes put up to disarm those around him while he is trying to figure out who the murderer is? Hamm has got charm to spare and he uses it as Fletch’s most potent weapon as he makes his way through this mystery. Surrounding Hamm are a number of good supporting performances including a gruff John Slattery (Is there any other kind?), the delightfully ditzy Annie Mumolo, Kyle MacLachlan and Marcia Gay Harden spouting the most outrageous fake Italian accent since Chico Marx. Hamm has some exceptionally good chemistry with all his co-stars, especially with Roy Wood Jr’s Boston police detective and MacLachlan’s long-before-COVID-made-it-cool germaphobe art dealer.
So if you are a fan of the literary Fletch, this adaption might suit your taste a bit more. The story here follows its progenitor novel’s plotline fairly well. The film does have to add a few things in recognition of the 46 years that have passed since the 1976 publication of Confess, Fletch. FLetch now takes Ubers all over Boston (“Five stars!”) and it introduces a moment to separate him from a cell phone right before a scene where such a modern convenience would come in handy. The biggest change actually comes in the form of a name change for Wood Jr.’s Detective Monroe. In the novel, the character went by the name of Flynn, but considering that Mcdonald spun him off into his own series of mystery novels, it is possible that there is a rights issue behind the change.
The biggest mystery here, though, is the film’s release strategy. The film is getting only a cursory theatrical release before moving onto Video On Demand and eventually the Showtime cable outlet. Hamm has easily established him the role and despite the film’s ending, the character is ripe to support an old school, episodic story franchise. The release almost feels like an unwarranted vote of no confidence in the film. Given the amount of work that has gone into getting the character back up on the big screen, it seems a waste to throw it away like this without giving people a real chance to sample it.